The Sea Wolf
Part 1 out of 7
Transcribed by David Price, email email@example.com
The Sea Wolf
I scarcely know where to begin, though I sometimes facetiously
place the cause of it all to Charley Furuseth's credit. He kept a
summer cottage in Mill Valley, under the shadow of Mount Tamalpais,
and never occupied it except when he loafed through the winter
mouths and read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to rest his brain. When
summer came on, he elected to sweat out a hot and dusty existence
in the city and to toil incessantly. Had it not been my custom to
run up to see him every Saturday afternoon and to stop over till
Monday morning, this particular January Monday morning would not
have found me afloat on San Francisco Bay.
Not but that I was afloat in a safe craft, for the Martinez was a
new ferry-steamer, making her fourth or fifth trip on the run
between Sausalito and San Francisco. The danger lay in the heavy
fog which blanketed the bay, and of which, as a landsman, I had
little apprehension. In fact, I remember the placid exaltation
with which I took up my position on the forward upper deck,
directly beneath the pilot-house, and allowed the mystery of the
fog to lay hold of my imagination. A fresh breeze was blowing, and
for a time I was alone in the moist obscurity--yet not alone, for I
was dimly conscious of the presence of the pilot, and of what I
took to be the captain, in the glass house above my head.
I remember thinking how comfortable it was, this division of labour
which made it unnecessary for me to study fogs, winds, tides, and
navigation, in order to visit my friend who lived across an arm of
the sea. It was good that men should be specialists, I mused. The
peculiar knowledge of the pilot and captain sufficed for many
thousands of people who knew no more of the sea and navigation than
I knew. On the other hand, instead of having to devote my energy
to the learning of a multitude of things, I concentrated it upon a
few particular things, such as, for instance, the analysis of Poe's
place in American literature--an essay of mine, by the way, in the
current Atlantic. Coming aboard, as I passed through the cabin, I
had noticed with greedy eyes a stout gentleman reading the
Atlantic, which was open at my very essay. And there it was again,
the division of labour, the special knowledge of the pilot and
captain which permitted the stout gentleman to read my special
knowledge on Poe while they carried him safely from Sausalito to
A red-faced man, slamming the cabin door behind him and stumping
out on the deck, interrupted my reflections, though I made a mental
note of the topic for use in a projected essay which I had thought
of calling "The Necessity for Freedom: A Plea for the Artist."
The red-faced man shot a glance up at the pilot-house, gazed around
at the fog, stumped across the deck and back (he evidently had
artificial legs), and stood still by my side, legs wide apart, and
with an expression of keen enjoyment on his face. I was not wrong
when I decided that his days had been spent on the sea.
"It's nasty weather like this here that turns heads grey before
their time," he said, with a nod toward the pilot-house.
"I had not thought there was any particular strain," I answered.
"It seems as simple as A, B, C. They know the direction by
compass, the distance, and the speed. I should not call it
anything more than mathematical certainty."
"Strain!" he snorted. "Simple as A, B, C! Mathematical
He seemed to brace himself up and lean backward against the air as
he stared at me. "How about this here tide that's rushin' out
through the Golden Gate?" he demanded, or bellowed, rather. "How
fast is she ebbin'? What's the drift, eh? Listen to that, will
you? A bell-buoy, and we're a-top of it! See 'em alterin' the
From out of the fog came the mournful tolling of a bell, and I
could see the pilot turning the wheel with great rapidity. The
bell, which had seemed straight ahead, was now sounding from the
side. Our own whistle was blowing hoarsely, and from time to time
the sound of other whistles came to us from out of the fog.
"That's a ferry-boat of some sort," the new-comer said, indicating
a whistle off to the right. "And there! D'ye hear that? Blown by
mouth. Some scow schooner, most likely. Better watch out, Mr.
Schooner-man. Ah, I thought so. Now hell's a poppin' for
The unseen ferry-boat was blowing blast after blast, and the mouth-
blown horn was tooting in terror-stricken fashion.
"And now they're payin' their respects to each other and tryin' to
get clear," the red-faced man went on, as the hurried whistling
His face was shining, his eyes flashing with excitement as he
translated into articulate language the speech of the horns and
sirens. "That's a steam-siren a-goin' it over there to the left.
And you hear that fellow with a frog in his throat--a steam
schooner as near as I can judge, crawlin' in from the Heads against
A shrill little whistle, piping as if gone mad, came from directly
ahead and from very near at hand. Gongs sounded on the Martinez.
Our paddle-wheels stopped, their pulsing beat died away, and then
they started again. The shrill little whistle, like the chirping
of a cricket amid the cries of great beasts, shot through the fog
from more to the side and swiftly grew faint and fainter. I looked
to my companion for enlightenment.
"One of them dare-devil launches," he said. "I almost wish we'd
sunk him, the little rip! They're the cause of more trouble. And
what good are they? Any jackass gets aboard one and runs it from
hell to breakfast, blowin' his whistle to beat the band and tellin'
the rest of the world to look out for him, because he's comin' and
can't look out for himself! Because he's comin'! And you've got
to look out, too! Right of way! Common decency! They don't know
the meanin' of it!"
I felt quite amused at his unwarranted choler, and while he stumped
indignantly up and down I fell to dwelling upon the romance of the
fog. And romantic it certainly was--the fog, like the grey shadow
of infinite mystery, brooding over the whirling speck of earth; and
men, mere motes of light and sparkle, cursed with an insane relish
for work, riding their steeds of wood and steel through the heart
of the mystery, groping their way blindly through the Unseen, and
clamouring and clanging in confident speech the while their hearts
are heavy with incertitude and fear.
The voice of my companion brought me back to myself with a laugh.
I too had been groping and floundering, the while I thought I rode
clear-eyed through the mystery.
"Hello! somebody comin' our way," he was saying. "And d'ye hear
that? He's comin' fast. Walking right along. Guess he don't hear
us yet. Wind's in wrong direction."
The fresh breeze was blowing right down upon us, and I could hear
the whistle plainly, off to one side and a little ahead.
"Ferry-boat?" I asked.
He nodded, then added, "Or he wouldn't be keepin' up such a clip."
He gave a short chuckle. "They're gettin' anxious up there."
I glanced up. The captain had thrust his head and shoulders out of
the pilot-house, and was staring intently into the fog as though by
sheer force of will he could penetrate it. His face was anxious,
as was the face of my companion, who had stumped over to the rail
and was gazing with a like intentness in the direction of the
Then everything happened, and with inconceivable rapidity. The fog
seemed to break away as though split by a wedge, and the bow of a
steamboat emerged, trailing fog-wreaths on either side like seaweed
on the snout of Leviathan. I could see the pilot-house and a
white-bearded man leaning partly out of it, on his elbows. He was
clad in a blue uniform, and I remember noting how trim and quiet he
was. His quietness, under the circumstances, was terrible. He
accepted Destiny, marched hand in hand with it, and coolly measured
the stroke. As he leaned there, he ran a calm and speculative eye
over us, as though to determine the precise point of the collision,
and took no notice whatever when our pilot, white with rage,
shouted, "Now you've done it!"
On looking back, I realize that the remark was too obvious to make
"Grab hold of something and hang on," the red-faced man said to me.
All his bluster had gone, and he seemed to have caught the
contagion of preternatural calm. "And listen to the women scream,"
he said grimly--almost bitterly, I thought, as though he had been
through the experience before.
The vessels came together before I could follow his advice. We
must have been struck squarely amidships, for I saw nothing, the
strange steamboat having passed beyond my line of vision. The
Martinez heeled over, sharply, and there was a crashing and rending
of timber. I was thrown flat on the wet deck, and before I could
scramble to my feet I heard the scream of the women. This it was,
I am certain,--the most indescribable of blood-curdling sounds,--
that threw me into a panic. I remembered the life-preservers
stored in the cabin, but was met at the door and swept backward by
a wild rush of men and women. What happened in the next few
minutes I do not recollect, though I have a clear remembrance of
pulling down life-preservers from the overhead racks, while the
red-faced man fastened them about the bodies of an hysterical group
of women. This memory is as distinct and sharp as that of any
picture I have seen. It is a picture, and I can see it now,--the
jagged edges of the hole in the side of the cabin, through which
the grey fog swirled and eddied; the empty upholstered seats,
littered with all the evidences of sudden flight, such as packages,
hand satchels, umbrellas, and wraps; the stout gentleman who had
been reading my essay, encased in cork and canvas, the magazine
still in his hand, and asking me with monotonous insistence if I
thought there was any danger; the red-faced man, stumping gallantly
around on his artificial legs and buckling life-preservers on all
corners; and finally, the screaming bedlam of women.
This it was, the screaming of the women, that most tried my nerves.
It must have tried, too, the nerves of the red-faced man, for I
have another picture which will never fade from my mind. The stout
gentleman is stuffing the magazine into his overcoat pocket and
looking on curiously. A tangled mass of women, with drawn, white
faces and open mouths, is shrieking like a chorus of lost souls;
and the red-faced man, his face now purplish with wrath, and with
arms extended overhead as in the act of hurling thunderbolts, is
shouting, "Shut up! Oh, shut up!"
I remember the scene impelled me to sudden laughter, and in the
next instant I realized I was becoming hysterical myself; for these
were women of my own kind, like my mother and sisters, with the
fear of death upon them and unwilling to die. And I remember that
the sounds they made reminded me of the squealing of pigs under the
knife of the butcher, and I was struck with horror at the vividness
of the analogy. These women, capable of the most sublime emotions,
of the tenderest sympathies, were open-mouthed and screaming. They
wanted to live, they were helpless, like rats in a trap, and they
The horror of it drove me out on deck. I was feeling sick and
squeamish, and sat down on a bench. In a hazy way I saw and heard
men rushing and shouting as they strove to lower the boats. It was
just as I had read descriptions of such scenes in books. The
tackles jammed. Nothing worked. One boat lowered away with the
plugs out, filled with women and children and then with water, and
capsized. Another boat had been lowered by one end, and still hung
in the tackle by the other end, where it had been abandoned.
Nothing was to be seen of the strange steamboat which had caused
the disaster, though I heard men saying that she would undoubtedly
send boats to our assistance.
I descended to the lower deck. The Martinez was sinking fast, for
the water was very near. Numbers of the passengers were leaping
overboard. Others, in the water, were clamouring to be taken
aboard again. No one heeded them. A cry arose that we were
sinking. I was seized by the consequent panic, and went over the
side in a surge of bodies. How I went over I do not know, though I
did know, and instantly, why those in the water were so desirous of
getting back on the steamer. The water was cold--so cold that it
was painful. The pang, as I plunged into it, was as quick and
sharp as that of fire. It bit to the marrow. It was like the grip
of death. I gasped with the anguish and shock of it, filling my
lungs before the life-preserver popped me to the surface. The
taste of the salt was strong in my mouth, and I was strangling with
the acrid stuff in my throat and lungs.
But it was the cold that was most distressing. I felt that I could
survive but a few minutes. People were struggling and floundering
in the water about me. I could hear them crying out to one
another. And I heard, also, the sound of oars. Evidently the
strange steamboat had lowered its boats. As the time went by I
marvelled that I was still alive. I had no sensation whatever in
my lower limbs, while a chilling numbness was wrapping about my
heart and creeping into it. Small waves, with spiteful foaming
crests, continually broke over me and into my mouth, sending me off
into more strangling paroxysms.
The noises grew indistinct, though I heard a final and despairing
chorus of screams in the distance, and knew that the Martinez had
gone down. Later,--how much later I have no knowledge,--I came to
myself with a start of fear. I was alone. I could hear no calls
or cries--only the sound of the waves, made weirdly hollow and
reverberant by the fog. A panic in a crowd, which partakes of a
sort of community of interest, is not so terrible as a panic when
one is by oneself; and such a panic I now suffered. Whither was I
drifting? The red-faced man had said that the tide was ebbing
through the Golden Gate. Was I, then, being carried out to sea?
And the life-preserver in which I floated? Was it not liable to go
to pieces at any moment? I had heard of such things being made of
paper and hollow rushes which quickly became saturated and lost all
buoyancy. And I could not swim a stroke. And I was alone,
floating, apparently, in the midst of a grey primordial vastness.
I confess that a madness seized me, that I shrieked aloud as the
women had shrieked, and beat the water with my numb hands.
How long this lasted I have no conception, for a blankness
intervened, of which I remember no more than one remembers of
troubled and painful sleep. When I aroused, it was as after
centuries of time; and I saw, almost above me and emerging from the
fog, the bow of a vessel, and three triangular sails, each shrewdly
lapping the other and filled with wind. Where the bow cut the
water there was a great foaming and gurgling, and I seemed directly
in its path. I tried to cry out, but was too exhausted. The bow
plunged down, just missing me and sending a swash of water clear
over my head. Then the long, black side of the vessel began
slipping past, so near that I could have touched it with my hands.
I tried to reach it, in a mad resolve to claw into the wood with my
nails, but my arms were heavy and lifeless. Again I strove to call
out, but made no sound.
The stern of the vessel shot by, dropping, as it did so, into a
hollow between the waves; and I caught a glimpse of a man standing
at the wheel, and of another man who seemed to be doing little else
than smoke a cigar. I saw the smoke issuing from his lips as he
slowly turned his head and glanced out over the water in my
direction. It was a careless, unpremeditated glance, one of those
haphazard things men do when they have no immediate call to do
anything in particular, but act because they are alive and must do
But life and death were in that glance. I could see the vessel
being swallowed up in the fog; I saw the back of the man at the
wheel, and the head of the other man turning, slowly turning, as
his gaze struck the water and casually lifted along it toward me.
His face wore an absent expression, as of deep thought, and I
became afraid that if his eyes did light upon me he would
nevertheless not see me. But his eyes did light upon me, and
looked squarely into mine; and he did see me, for he sprang to the
wheel, thrusting the other man aside, and whirled it round and
round, hand over hand, at the same time shouting orders of some
sort. The vessel seemed to go off at a tangent to its former
course and leapt almost instantly from view into the fog.
I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness, and tried with all the
power of my will to fight above the suffocating blankness and
darkness that was rising around me. A little later I heard the
stroke of oars, growing nearer and nearer, and the calls of a man.
When he was very near I heard him crying, in vexed fashion, "Why in
hell don't you sing out?" This meant me, I thought, and then the
blankness and darkness rose over me.
I seemed swinging in a mighty rhythm through orbit vastness.
Sparkling points of light spluttered and shot past me. They were
stars, I knew, and flaring comets, that peopled my flight among the
suns. As I reached the limit of my swing and prepared to rush back
on the counter swing, a great gong struck and thundered. For an
immeasurable period, lapped in the rippling of placid centuries, I
enjoyed and pondered my tremendous flight.
But a change came over the face of the dream, for a dream I told
myself it must be. My rhythm grew shorter and shorter. I was
jerked from swing to counter swing with irritating haste. I could
scarcely catch my breath, so fiercely was I impelled through the
heavens. The gong thundered more frequently and more furiously. I
grew to await it with a nameless dread. Then it seemed as though I
were being dragged over rasping sands, white and hot in the sun.
This gave place to a sense of intolerable anguish. My skin was
scorching in the torment of fire. The gong clanged and knelled.
The sparkling points of light flashed past me in an interminable
stream, as though the whole sidereal system were dropping into the
void. I gasped, caught my breath painfully, and opened my eyes.
Two men were kneeling beside me, working over me. My mighty rhythm
was the lift and forward plunge of a ship on the sea. The terrific
gong was a frying-pan, hanging on the wall, that rattled and
clattered with each leap of the ship. The rasping, scorching sands
were a man's hard hands chafing my naked chest. I squirmed under
the pain of it, and half lifted my head. My chest was raw and red,
and I could see tiny blood globules starting through the torn and
"That'll do, Yonson," one of the men said. "Carn't yer see you've
bloomin' well rubbed all the gent's skin orf?"
The man addressed as Yonson, a man of the heavy Scandinavian type,
ceased chafing me, and arose awkwardly to his feet. The man who
had spoken to him was clearly a Cockney, with the clean lines and
weakly pretty, almost effeminate, face of the man who has absorbed
the sound of Bow Bells with his mother's milk. A draggled muslin
cap on his head and a dirty gunny-sack about his slim hips
proclaimed him cook of the decidedly dirty ship's galley in which I
"An' 'ow yer feelin' now, sir?" he asked, with the subservient
smirk which comes only of generations of tip-seeking ancestors.
For reply, I twisted weakly into a sitting posture, and was helped
by Yonson to my feet. The rattle and bang of the frying-pan was
grating horribly on my nerves. I could not collect my thoughts.
Clutching the woodwork of the galley for support,--and I confess
the grease with which it was scummed put my teeth on edge,--I
reached across a hot cooking-range to the offending utensil,
unhooked it, and wedged it securely into the coal-box.
The cook grinned at my exhibition of nerves, and thrust into my
hand a steaming mug with an "'Ere, this'll do yer good." It was a
nauseous mess,--ship's coffee,--but the heat of it was revivifying.
Between gulps of the molten stuff I glanced down at my raw and
bleeding chest and turned to the Scandinavian.
"Thank you, Mr. Yonson," I said; "but don't you think your measures
were rather heroic?"
It was because he understood the reproof of my action, rather than
of my words, that he held up his palm for inspection. It was
remarkably calloused. I passed my hand over the horny projections,
and my teeth went on edge once more from the horrible rasping
"My name is Johnson, not Yonson," he said, in very good, though
slow, English, with no more than a shade of accent to it.
There was mild protest in his pale blue eyes, and withal a timid
frankness and manliness that quite won me to him.
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson," I corrected, and reached out my hand for
He hesitated, awkward and bashful, shifted his weight from one leg
to the other, then blunderingly gripped my hand in a hearty shake.
"Have you any dry clothes I may put on?" I asked the cook.
"Yes, sir," he answered, with cheerful alacrity. "I'll run down
an' tyke a look over my kit, if you've no objections, sir, to
wearin' my things."
He dived out of the galley door, or glided rather, with a swiftness
and smoothness of gait that struck me as being not so much cat-like
as oily. In fact, this oiliness, or greasiness, as I was later to
learn, was probably the most salient expression of his personality.
"And where am I?" I asked Johnson, whom I took, and rightly, to be
one of the sailors. "What vessel is this, and where is she bound?"
"Off the Farallones, heading about sou-west," he answered, slowly
and methodically, as though groping for his best English, and
rigidly observing the order of my queries. "The schooner Ghost,
bound seal-hunting to Japan."
"And who is the captain? I must see him as soon as I am dressed."
Johnson looked puzzled and embarrassed. He hesitated while he
groped in his vocabulary and framed a complete answer. "The cap'n
is Wolf Larsen, or so men call him. I never heard his other name.
But you better speak soft with him. He is mad this morning. The
But he did not finish. The cook had glided in.
"Better sling yer 'ook out of 'ere, Yonson," he said. "The old
man'll be wantin' yer on deck, an' this ayn't no d'y to fall foul
Johnson turned obediently to the door, at the same time, over the
cook's shoulder, favouring me with an amazingly solemn and
portentous wink as though to emphasize his interrupted remark and
the need for me to be soft-spoken with the captain.
Hanging over the cook's arm was a loose and crumpled array of evil-
looking and sour-smelling garments.
"They was put aw'y wet, sir," he vouchsafed explanation. "But
you'll 'ave to make them do till I dry yours out by the fire."
Clinging to the woodwork, staggering with the roll of the ship, and
aided by the cook, I managed to slip into a rough woollen
undershirt. On the instant my flesh was creeping and crawling from
the harsh contact. He noticed my involuntary twitching and
grimacing, and smirked:
"I only 'ope yer don't ever 'ave to get used to such as that in
this life, 'cos you've got a bloomin' soft skin, that you 'ave,
more like a lydy's than any I know of. I was bloomin' well sure
you was a gentleman as soon as I set eyes on yer."
I had taken a dislike to him at first, and as he helped to dress me
this dislike increased. There was something repulsive about his
touch. I shrank from his hand; my flesh revolted. And between
this and the smells arising from various pots boiling and bubbling
on the galley fire, I was in haste to get out into the fresh air.
Further, there was the need of seeing the captain about what
arrangements could be made for getting me ashore.
A cheap cotton shirt, with frayed collar and a bosom discoloured
with what I took to be ancient blood-stains, was put on me amid a
running and apologetic fire of comment. A pair of workman's
brogans encased my feet, and for trousers I was furnished with a
pair of pale blue, washed-out overalls, one leg of which was fully
ten inches shorter than the other. The abbreviated leg looked as
though the devil had there clutched for the Cockney's soul and
missed the shadow for the substance.
"And whom have I to thank for this kindness?" I asked, when I stood
completely arrayed, a tiny boy's cap on my head, and for coat a
dirty, striped cotton jacket which ended at the small of my back
and the sleeves of which reached just below my elbows.
The cook drew himself up in a smugly humble fashion, a deprecating
smirk on his face. Out of my experience with stewards on the
Atlantic liners at the end of the voyage, I could have sworn he was
waiting for his tip. From my fuller knowledge of the creature I
now know that the posture was unconscious. An hereditary
servility, no doubt, was responsible.
"Mugridge, sir," he fawned, his effeminate features running into a
greasy smile. "Thomas Mugridge, sir, an' at yer service."
"All right, Thomas," I said. "I shall not forget you--when my
clothes are dry."
A soft light suffused his face and his eyes glistened, as though
somewhere in the deeps of his being his ancestors had quickened and
stirred with dim memories of tips received in former lives.
"Thank you, sir," he said, very gratefully and very humbly indeed.
Precisely in the way that the door slid back, he slid aside, and I
stepped out on deck. I was still weak from my prolonged immersion.
A puff of wind caught me,--and I staggered across the moving deck
to a corner of the cabin, to which I clung for support. The
schooner, heeled over far out from the perpendicular, was bowing
and plunging into the long Pacific roll. If she were heading
south-west as Johnson had said, the wind, then, I calculated, was
blowing nearly from the south. The fog was gone, and in its place
the sun sparkled crisply on the surface of the water, I turned to
the east, where I knew California must lie, but could see nothing
save low-lying fog-banks--the same fog, doubtless, that had brought
about the disaster to the Martinez and placed me in my present
situation. To the north, and not far away, a group of naked rocks
thrust above the sea, on one of which I could distinguish a
lighthouse. In the south-west, and almost in our course, I saw the
pyramidal loom of some vessel's sails.
Having completed my survey of the horizon, I turned to my more
immediate surroundings. My first thought was that a man who had
come through a collision and rubbed shoulders with death merited
more attention than I received. Beyond a sailor at the wheel who
stared curiously across the top of the cabin, I attracted no notice
Everybody seemed interested in what was going on amid ships.
There, on a hatch, a large man was lying on his back. He was fully
clothed, though his shirt was ripped open in front. Nothing was to
be seen of his chest, however, for it was covered with a mass of
black hair, in appearance like the furry coat of a dog. His face
and neck were hidden beneath a black beard, intershot with grey,
which would have been stiff and bushy had it not been limp and
draggled and dripping with water. His eyes were closed, and he was
apparently unconscious; but his mouth was wide open, his breast,
heaving as though from suffocation as he laboured noisily for
breath. A sailor, from time to time and quite methodically, as a
matter of routine, dropped a canvas bucket into the ocean at the
end of a rope, hauled it in hand under hand, and sluiced its
contents over the prostrate man.
Pacing back and forth the length of the hatchways and savagely
chewing the end of a cigar, was the man whose casual glance had
rescued me from the sea. His height was probably five feet ten
inches, or ten and a half; but my first impression, or feel of the
man, was not of this, but of his strength. And yet, while he was
of massive build, with broad shoulders and deep chest, I could not
characterize his strength as massive. It was what might be termed
a sinewy, knotty strength, of the kind we ascribe to lean and wiry
men, but which, in him, because of his heavy build, partook more of
the enlarged gorilla order. Not that in appearance he seemed in
the least gorilla-like. What I am striving to express is this
strength itself, more as a thing apart from his physical semblance.
It was a strength we are wont to associate with things primitive,
with wild animals, and the creatures we imagine our tree-dwelling
prototypes to have been--a strength savage, ferocious, alive in
itself, the essence of life in that it is the potency of motion,
the elemental stuff itself out of which the many forms of life have
been moulded; in short, that which writhes in the body of a snake
when the head is cut off, and the snake, as a snake, is dead, or
which lingers in the shapeless lump of turtle-meat and recoils and
quivers from the prod of a finger.
Such was the impression of strength I gathered from this man who
paced up and down. He was firmly planted on his legs; his feet
struck the deck squarely and with surety; every movement of a
muscle, from the heave of the shoulders to the tightening of the
lips about the cigar, was decisive, and seemed to come out of a
strength that was excessive and overwhelming. In fact, though this
strength pervaded every action of his, it seemed but the
advertisement of a greater strength that lurked within, that lay
dormant and no more than stirred from time to time, but which might
arouse, at any moment, terrible and compelling, like the rage of a
lion or the wrath of a storm.
The cook stuck his head out of the galley door and grinned
encouragingly at me, at the same time jerking his thumb in the
direction of the man who paced up and down by the hatchway. Thus I
was given to understand that he was the captain, the "Old Man," in
the cook's vernacular, the individual whom I must interview and put
to the trouble of somehow getting me ashore. I had half started
forward, to get over with what I was certain would be a stormy five
minutes, when a more violent suffocating paroxysm seized the
unfortunate person who was lying on his back. He wrenched and
writhed about convulsively. The chin, with the damp black beard,
pointed higher in the air as the back muscles stiffened and the
chest swelled in an unconscious and instinctive effort to get more
air. Under the whiskers, and all unseen, I knew that the skin was
taking on a purplish hue.
The captain, or Wolf Larsen, as men called him, ceased pacing and
gazed down at the dying man. So fierce had this final struggle
become that the sailor paused in the act of flinging more water
over him and stared curiously, the canvas bucket partly tilted and
dripping its contents to the deck. The dying man beat a tattoo on
the hatch with his heels, straightened out his legs, and stiffened
in one great tense effort, and rolled his head from side to side.
Then the muscles relaxed, the head stopped rolling, and a sigh, as
of profound relief, floated upward from his lips. The jaw dropped,
the upper lip lifted, and two rows of tobacco-discoloured teeth
appeared. It seemed as though his features had frozen into a
diabolical grin at the world he had left and outwitted.
Then a most surprising thing occurred. The captain broke loose
upon the dead man like a thunderclap. Oaths rolled from his lips
in a continuous stream. And they were not namby-pamby oaths, or
mere expressions of indecency. Each word was a blasphemy, and
there were many words. They crisped and crackled like electric
sparks. I had never heard anything like it in my life, nor could I
have conceived it possible. With a turn for literary expression
myself, and a penchant for forcible figures and phrases, I
appreciated, as no other listener, I dare say, the peculiar
vividness and strength and absolute blasphemy of his metaphors.
The cause of it all, as near as I could make out, was that the man,
who was mate, had gone on a debauch before leaving San Francisco,
and then had the poor taste to die at the beginning of the voyage
and leave Wolf Larsen short-handed.
It should be unnecessary to state, at least to my friends, that I
was shocked. Oaths and vile language of any sort had always been
repellent to me. I felt a wilting sensation, a sinking at the
heart, and, I might just as well say, a giddiness. To me, death
had always been invested with solemnity and dignity. It had been
peaceful in its occurrence, sacred in its ceremonial. But death in
its more sordid and terrible aspects was a thing with which I had
been unacquainted till now. As I say, while I appreciated the
power of the terrific denunciation that swept out of Wolf Larsen's
mouth, I was inexpressibly shocked. The scorching torrent was
enough to wither the face of the corpse. I should not have been
surprised if the wet black beard had frizzled and curled and flared
up in smoke and flame. But the dead man was unconcerned. He
continued to grin with a sardonic humour, with a cynical mockery
and defiance. He was master of the situation.
Wolf Larsen ceased swearing as suddenly as he had begun. He
relighted his cigar and glanced around. His eyes chanced upon the
"Well, Cooky?" he began, with a suaveness that was cold and of the
temper of steel.
"Yes, sir," the cook eagerly interpolated, with appeasing and
"Don't you think you've stretched that neck of yours just about
enough? It's unhealthy, you know. The mate's gone, so I can't
afford to lose you too. You must be very, very careful of your
health, Cooky. Understand?"
His last word, in striking contrast with the smoothness of his
previous utterance, snapped like the lash of a whip. The cook
quailed under it.
"Yes, sir," was the meek reply, as the offending head disappeared
into the galley.
At this sweeping rebuke, which the cook had only pointed, the rest
of the crew became uninterested and fell to work at one task or
another. A number of men, however, who were lounging about a
companion-way between the galley and hatch, and who did not seem to
be sailors, continued talking in low tones with one another.
These, I afterward learned, were the hunters, the men who shot the
seals, and a very superior breed to common sailor-folk.
"Johansen!" Wolf Larsen called out. A sailor stepped forward
obediently. "Get your palm and needle and sew the beggar up.
You'll find some old canvas in the sail-locker. Make it do."
"What'll I put on his feet, sir?" the man asked, after the
customary "Ay, ay, sir."
"We'll see to that," Wolf Larsen answered, and elevated his voice
in a call of "Cooky!"
Thomas Mugridge popped out of his galley like a jack-in-the-box.
"Go below and fill a sack with coal."
"Any of you fellows got a Bible or Prayer-book?" was the captain's
next demand, this time of the hunters lounging about the companion-
They shook their heads, and some one made a jocular remark which I
did not catch, but which raised a general laugh.
Wolf Larsen made the same demand of the sailors. Bibles and
Prayer-books seemed scarce articles, but one of the men volunteered
to pursue the quest amongst the watch below, returning in a minute
with the information that there was none.
The captain shrugged his shoulders. "Then we'll drop him over
without any palavering, unless our clerical-looking castaway has
the burial service at sea by heart."
By this time he had swung fully around and was facing me. "You're
a preacher, aren't you?" he asked.
The hunters,--there were six of them,--to a man, turned and
regarded me. I was painfully aware of my likeness to a scarecrow.
A laugh went up at my appearance,--a laugh that was not lessened or
softened by the dead man stretched and grinning on the deck before
us; a laugh that was as rough and harsh and frank as the sea
itself; that arose out of coarse feelings and blunted
sensibilities, from natures that knew neither courtesy nor
Wolf Larsen did not laugh, though his grey eyes lighted with a
slight glint of amusement; and in that moment, having stepped
forward quite close to him, I received my first impression of the
man himself, of the man as apart from his body, and from the
torrent of blasphemy I had heard him spew forth. The face, with
large features and strong lines, of the square order, yet well
filled out, was apparently massive at first sight; but again, as
with the body, the massiveness seemed to vanish, and a conviction
to grow of a tremendous and excessive mental or spiritual strength
that lay behind, sleeping in the deeps of his being. The jaw, the
chin, the brow rising to a goodly height and swelling heavily above
the eyes,--these, while strong in themselves, unusually strong,
seemed to speak an immense vigour or virility of spirit that lay
behind and beyond and out of sight. There was no sounding such a
spirit, no measuring, no determining of metes and bounds, nor
neatly classifying in some pigeon-hole with others of similar type.
The eyes--and it was my destiny to know them well--were large and
handsome, wide apart as the true artist's are wide, sheltering
under a heavy brow and arched over by thick black eyebrows. The
eyes themselves were of that baffling protean grey which is never
twice the same; which runs through many shades and colourings like
intershot silk in sunshine; which is grey, dark and light, and
greenish-grey, and sometimes of the clear azure of the deep sea.
They were eyes that masked the soul with a thousand guises, and
that sometimes opened, at rare moments, and allowed it to rush up
as though it were about to fare forth nakedly into the world on
some wonderful adventure,--eyes that could brood with the hopeless
sombreness of leaden skies; that could snap and crackle points of
fire like those which sparkle from a whirling sword; that could
grow chill as an arctic landscape, and yet again, that could warm
and soften and be all a-dance with love-lights, intense and
masculine, luring and compelling, which at the same time fascinate
and dominate women till they surrender in a gladness of joy and of
relief and sacrifice.
But to return. I told him that, unhappily for the burial service,
I was not a preacher, when he sharply demanded:
"What do you do for a living?"
I confess I had never had such a question asked me before, nor had
I ever canvassed it. I was quite taken aback, and before I could
find myself had sillily stammered, "I--I am a gentleman."
His lip curled in a swift sneer.
"I have worked, I do work," I cried impetuously, as though he were
my judge and I required vindication, and at the same time very much
aware of my arrant idiocy in discussing the subject at all.
"For your living?"
There was something so imperative and masterful about him that I
was quite beside myself--"rattled," as Furuseth would have termed
it, like a quaking child before a stern school-master.
"Who feeds you?" was his next question.
"I have an income," I answered stoutly, and could have bitten my
tongue the next instant. "All of which, you will pardon my
observing, has nothing whatsoever to do with what I wish to see you
But he disregarded my protest.
"Who earned it? Eh? I thought so. Your father. You stand on
dead men's legs. You've never had any of your own. You couldn't
walk alone between two sunrises and hustle the meat for your belly
for three meals. Let me see your hand."
His tremendous, dormant strength must have stirred, swiftly and
accurately, or I must have slept a moment, for before I knew it he
had stepped two paces forward, gripped my right hand in his, and
held it up for inspection. I tried to withdraw it, but his fingers
tightened, without visible effort, till I thought mine would be
crushed. It is hard to maintain one's dignity under such
circumstances. I could not squirm or struggle like a schoolboy.
Nor could I attack such a creature who had but to twist my arm to
break it. Nothing remained but to stand still and accept the
indignity. I had time to notice that the pockets of the dead man
had been emptied on the deck, and that his body and his grin had
been wrapped from view in canvas, the folds of which the sailor,
Johansen, was sewing together with coarse white twine, shoving the
needle through with a leather contrivance fitted on the palm of his
Wolf Larsen dropped my hand with a flirt of disdain.
"Dead men's hands have kept it soft. Good for little else than
dish-washing and scullion work."
"I wish to be put ashore," I said firmly, for I now had myself in
control. "I shall pay you whatever you judge your delay and
trouble to be worth."
He looked at me curiously. Mockery shone in his eyes.
"I have a counter proposition to make, and for the good of your
soul. My mate's gone, and there'll be a lot of promotion. A
sailor comes aft to take mate's place, cabin-boy goes for'ard to
take sailor's place, and you take the cabin-boy's place, sign the
articles for the cruise, twenty dollars per month and found. Now
what do you say? And mind you, it's for your own soul's sake. It
will be the making of you. You might learn in time to stand on
your own legs, and perhaps to toddle along a bit."
But I took no notice. The sails of the vessel I had seen off to
the south-west had grown larger and plainer. They were of the same
schooner-rig as the Ghost, though the hull itself, I could see, was
smaller. She was a pretty sight, leaping and flying toward us, and
evidently bound to pass at close range. The wind had been
momentarily increasing, and the sun, after a few angry gleams, had
disappeared. The sea had turned a dull leaden grey and grown
rougher, and was now tossing foaming whitecaps to the sky. We were
travelling faster, and heeled farther over. Once, in a gust, the
rail dipped under the sea, and the decks on that side were for the
moment awash with water that made a couple of the hunters hastily
lift their feet.
"That vessel will soon be passing us," I said, after a moment's
pause. "As she is going in the opposite direction, she is very
probably bound for San Francisco."
"Very probably," was Wolf Larsen's answer, as he turned partly away
from me and cried out, "Cooky! Oh, Cooky!"
The Cockney popped out of the galley.
"Where's that boy? Tell him I want him."
"Yes, sir;" and Thomas Mugridge fled swiftly aft and disappeared
down another companion-way near the wheel. A moment later he
emerged, a heavy-set young fellow of eighteen or nineteen, with a
glowering, villainous countenance, trailing at his heels.
"'Ere 'e is, sir," the cook said.
But Wolf Larsen ignored that worthy, turning at once to the cabin-
"What's your name, boy?
"George Leach, sir," came the sullen answer, and the boy's bearing
showed clearly that he divined the reason for which he had been
"Not an Irish name," the captain snapped sharply. "O'Toole or
McCarthy would suit your mug a damn sight better. Unless, very
likely, there's an Irishman in your mother's woodpile."
I saw the young fellow's hands clench at the insult, and the blood
crawl scarlet up his neck.
"But let that go," Wolf Larsen continued. "You may have very good
reasons for forgetting your name, and I'll like you none the worse
for it as long as you toe the mark. Telegraph Hill, of course, is
your port of entry. It sticks out all over your mug. Tough as
they make them and twice as nasty. I know the kind. Well, you can
make up your mind to have it taken out of you on this craft.
Understand? Who shipped you, anyway?"
"McCready and Swanson."
"Sir!" Wolf Larsen thundered.
"McCready and Swanson, sir," the boy corrected, his eyes burning
with a bitter light.
"Who got the advance money?"
"They did, sir."
"I thought as much. And damned glad you were to let them have it.
Couldn't make yourself scarce too quick, with several gentlemen you
may have heard of looking for you."
The boy metamorphosed into a savage on the instant. His body
bunched together as though for a spring, and his face became as an
infuriated beast's as he snarled, "It's a--"
"A what?" Wolf Larsen asked, a peculiar softness in his voice, as
though he were overwhelmingly curious to hear the unspoken word.
The boy hesitated, then mastered his temper. "Nothin', sir. I
take it back."
"And you have shown me I was right." This with a gratified smile.
"How old are you?"
"Just turned sixteen, sir,"
"A lie. You'll never see eighteen again. Big for your age at
that, with muscles like a horse. Pack up your kit and go for'ard
into the fo'c'sle. You're a boat-puller now. You're promoted;
Without waiting for the boy's acceptance, the captain turned to the
sailor who had just finished the gruesome task of sewing up the
corpse. "Johansen, do you know anything about navigation?"
"Well, never mind; you're mate just the same. Get your traps aft
into the mate's berth."
"Ay, ay, sir," was the cheery response, as Johansen started
In the meantime the erstwhile cabin-boy had not moved. "What are
you waiting for?" Wolf Larsen demanded.
"I didn't sign for boat-puller, sir," was the reply. "I signed for
cabin-boy. An' I don't want no boat-pullin' in mine."
"Pack up and go for'ard."
This time Wolf Larsen's command was thrillingly imperative. The
boy glowered sullenly, but refused to move.
Then came another stirring of Wolf Larsen's tremendous strength.
It was utterly unexpected, and it was over and done with between
the ticks of two seconds. He had sprung fully six feet across the
deck and driven his fist into the other's stomach. At the same
moment, as though I had been struck myself, I felt a sickening
shock in the pit of my stomach. I instance this to show the
sensitiveness of my nervous organization at the time, and how
unused I was to spectacles of brutality. The cabin-boy--and he
weighed one hundred and sixty-five at the very least--crumpled up.
His body wrapped limply about the fist like a wet rag about a
stick. He lifted into the air, described a short curve, and struck
the deck alongside the corpse on his head and shoulders, where he
lay and writhed about in agony.
"Well?" Larsen asked of me. "Have you made up your mind?"
I had glanced occasionally at the approaching schooner, and it was
now almost abreast of us and not more than a couple of hundred
yards away. It was a very trim and neat little craft. I could see
a large, black number on one of its sails, and I had seen pictures
"What vessel is that?" I asked.
"The pilot-boat Lady Mine," Wolf Larsen answered grimly. "Got rid
of her pilots and running into San Francisco. She'll be there in
five or six hours with this wind."
"Will you please signal it, then, so that I may be put ashore."
"Sorry, but I've lost the signal book overboard," he remarked, and
the group of hunters grinned.
I debated a moment, looking him squarely in the eyes. I had seen
the frightful treatment of the cabin-boy, and knew that I should
very probably receive the same, if not worse. As I say, I debated
with myself, and then I did what I consider the bravest act of my
life. I ran to the side, waving my arms and shouting:
"Lady Mine ahoy! Take me ashore! A thousand dollars if you take
I waited, watching two men who stood by the wheel, one of them
steering. The other was lifting a megaphone to his lips. I did
not turn my head, though I expected every moment a killing blow
from the human brute behind me. At last, after what seemed
centuries, unable longer to stand the strain, I looked around. He
had not moved. He was standing in the same position, swaying
easily to the roll of the ship and lighting a fresh cigar.
"What is the matter? Anything wrong?"
This was the cry from the Lady Mine.
"Yes!" I shouted, at the top of my lungs. "Life or death! One
thousand dollars if you take me ashore!"
"Too much 'Frisco tanglefoot for the health of my crew!" Wolf
Larsen shouted after. "This one"--indicating me with his thumb--
"fancies sea-serpents and monkeys just now!"
The man on the Lady Mine laughed back through the megaphone. The
pilot-boat plunged past.
"Give him hell for me!" came a final cry, and the two men waved
their arms in farewell.
I leaned despairingly over the rail, watching the trim little
schooner swiftly increasing the bleak sweep of ocean between us.
And she would probably be in San Francisco in five or six hours!
My head seemed bursting. There was an ache in my throat as though
my heart were up in it. A curling wave struck the side and
splashed salt spray on my lips. The wind puffed strongly, and the
Ghost heeled far over, burying her lee rail. I could hear the
water rushing down upon the deck.
When I turned around, a moment later, I saw the cabin-boy
staggering to his feet. His face was ghastly white, twitching with
suppressed pain. He looked very sick.
"Well, Leach, are you going for'ard?" Wolf Larsen asked.
"Yes, sir," came the answer of a spirit cowed.
"And you?" I was asked.
"I'll give you a thousand--" I began, but was interrupted.
"Stow that! Are you going to take up your duties as cabin-boy? Or
do I have to take you in hand?"
What was I to do? To be brutally beaten, to be killed perhaps,
would not help my case. I looked steadily into the cruel grey
eyes. They might have been granite for all the light and warmth of
a human soul they contained. One may see the soul stir in some
men's eyes, but his were bleak, and cold, and grey as the sea
"Yes," I said.
"Say 'yes, sir.'"
"Yes, sir," I corrected.
"What is your name?"
"Van Weyden, sir."
"Humphrey, sir; Humphrey Van Weyden."
"That'll do. Go to the cook and learn your duties."
And thus it was that I passed into a state of involuntary servitude
to Wolf Larsen. He was stronger than I, that was all. But it was
very unreal at the time. It is no less unreal now that I look back
upon it. It will always be to me a monstrous, inconceivable thing,
a horrible nightmare.
"Hold on, don't go yet."
I stopped obediently in my walk toward the galley.
"Johansen, call all hands. Now that we've everything cleaned up,
we'll have the funeral and get the decks cleared of useless
While Johansen was summoning the watch below, a couple of sailors,
under the captain's direction, laid the canvas-swathed corpse upon
a hatch-cover. On either side the deck, against the rail and
bottoms up, were lashed a number of small boats. Several men
picked up the hatch-cover with its ghastly freight, carried it to
the lee side, and rested it on the boats, the feet pointing
overboard. To the feet was attached the sack of coal which the
cook had fetched.
I had always conceived a burial at sea to be a very solemn and awe-
inspiring event, but I was quickly disillusioned, by this burial at
any rate. One of the hunters, a little dark-eyed man whom his
mates called "Smoke," was telling stories, liberally intersprinkled
with oaths and obscenities; and every minute or so the group of
hunters gave mouth to a laughter that sounded to me like a wolf-
chorus or the barking of hell-hounds. The sailors trooped noisily
aft, some of the watch below rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and
talked in low tones together. There was an ominous and worried
expression on their faces. It was evident that they did not like
the outlook of a voyage under such a captain and begun so
inauspiciously. From time to time they stole glances at Wolf
Larsen, and I could see that they were apprehensive of the man.
He stepped up to the hatch-cover, and all caps came off. I ran my
eyes over them--twenty men all told; twenty-two including the man
at the wheel and myself. I was pardonably curious in my survey,
for it appeared my fate to be pent up with them on this miniature
floating world for I knew not how many weeks or months. The
sailors, in the main, were English and Scandinavian, and their
faces seemed of the heavy, stolid order. The hunters, on the other
hand, had stronger and more diversified faces, with hard lines and
the marks of the free play of passions. Strange to say, and I
noted it all once, Wolf Larsen's features showed no such evil
stamp. There seemed nothing vicious in them. True, there were
lines, but they were the lines of decision and firmness. It
seemed, rather, a frank and open countenance, which frankness or
openness was enhanced by the fact that he was smooth-shaven. I
could hardly believe--until the next incident occurred--that it was
the face of a man who could behave as he had behaved to the cabin-
At this moment, as he opened his mouth to speak, puff after puff
struck the schooner and pressed her side under. The wind shrieked
a wild song through the rigging. Some of the hunters glanced
anxiously aloft. The lee rail, where the dead man lay, was buried
in the sea, and as the schooner lifted and righted the water swept
across the deck wetting us above our shoe-tops. A shower of rain
drove down upon us, each drop stinging like a hailstone. As it
passed, Wolf Larsen began to speak, the bare-headed men swaying in
unison, to the heave and lunge of the deck.
"I only remember one part of the service," he said, "and that is,
'And the body shall be cast into the sea.' So cast it in."
He ceased speaking. The men holding the hatch-cover seemed
perplexed, puzzled no doubt by the briefness of the ceremony. He
burst upon them in a fury.
"Lift up that end there, damn you! What the hell's the matter with
They elevated the end of the hatch-cover with pitiful haste, and,
like a dog flung overside, the dead man slid feet first into the
sea. The coal at his feet dragged him down. He was gone.
"Johansen," Wolf Larsen said briskly to the new mate, "keep all
hands on deck now they're here. Get in the topsails and jibs and
make a good job of it. We're in for a sou'-easter. Better reef
the jib and mainsail too, while you're about it."
In a moment the decks were in commotion, Johansen bellowing orders
and the men pulling or letting go ropes of various sorts--all
naturally confusing to a landsman such as myself. But it was the
heartlessness of it that especially struck me. The dead man was an
episode that was past, an incident that was dropped, in a canvas
covering with a sack of coal, while the ship sped along and her
work went on. Nobody had been affected. The hunters were laughing
at a fresh story of Smoke's; the men pulling and hauling, and two
of them climbing aloft; Wolf Larsen was studying the clouding sky
to windward; and the dead man, dying obscenely, buried sordidly,
and sinking down, down--
Then it was that the cruelty of the sea, its relentlessness and
awfulness, rushed upon me. Life had become cheap and tawdry, a
beastly and inarticulate thing, a soulless stirring of the ooze and
slime. I held on to the weather rail, close by the shrouds, and
gazed out across the desolate foaming waves to the low-lying fog-
banks that hid San Francisco and the California coast. Rain-
squalls were driving in between, and I could scarcely see the fog.
And this strange vessel, with its terrible men, pressed under by
wind and sea and ever leaping up and out, was heading away into the
south-west, into the great and lonely Pacific expanse.
What happened to me next on the sealing-schooner Ghost, as I strove
to fit into my new environment, are matters of humiliation and
pain. The cook, who was called "the doctor" by the crew, "Tommy"
by the hunters, and "Cooky" by Wolf Larsen, was a changed person.
The difference worked in my status brought about a corresponding
difference in treatment from him. Servile and fawning as he had
been before, he was now as domineering and bellicose. In truth, I
was no longer the fine gentleman with a skin soft as a "lydy's,"
but only an ordinary and very worthless cabin-boy.
He absurdly insisted upon my addressing him as Mr. Mugridge, and
his behaviour and carriage were insufferable as he showed me my
duties. Besides my work in the cabin, with its four small state-
rooms, I was supposed to be his assistant in the galley, and my
colossal ignorance concerning such things as peeling potatoes or
washing greasy pots was a source of unending and sarcastic wonder
to him. He refused to take into consideration what I was, or,
rather, what my life and the things I was accustomed to had been.
This was part of the attitude he chose to adopt toward me; and I
confess, ere the day was done, that I hated him with more lively
feelings than I had ever hated any one in my life before.
This first day was made more difficult for me from the fact that
the Ghost, under close reefs (terms such as these I did not learn
till later), was plunging through what Mr. Mugridge called an
"'owlin' sou'-easter." At half-past five, under his directions, I
set the table in the cabin, with rough-weather trays in place, and
then carried the tea and cooked food down from the galley. In this
connection I cannot forbear relating my first experience with a
"Look sharp or you'll get doused," was Mr. Mugridge's parting
injunction, as I left the galley with a big tea-pot in one hand,
and in the hollow of the other arm several loaves of fresh-baked
bread. One of the hunters, a tall, loose-jointed chap named
Henderson, was going aft at the time from the steerage (the name
the hunters facetiously gave their midships sleeping quarters) to
the cabin. Wolf Larsen was on the poop, smoking his everlasting
"'Ere she comes. Sling yer 'ook!" the cook cried.
I stopped, for I did not know what was coming, and saw the galley
door slide shut with a bang. Then I saw Henderson leaping like a
madman for the main rigging, up which he shot, on the inside, till
he was many feet higher than my head. Also I saw a great wave,
curling and foaming, poised far above the rail. I was directly
under it. My mind did not work quickly, everything was so new and
strange. I grasped that I was in danger, but that was all. I
stood still, in trepidation. Then Wolf Larsen shouted from the
"Grab hold something, you--you Hump!"
But it was too late. I sprang toward the rigging, to which I might
have clung, and was met by the descending wall of water. What
happened after that was very confusing. I was beneath the water,
suffocating and drowning. My feet were out from under me, and I
was turning over and over and being swept along I knew not where.
Several times I collided against hard objects, once striking my
right knee a terrible blow. Then the flood seemed suddenly to
subside and I was breathing the good air again. I had been swept
against the galley and around the steerage companion-way from the
weather side into the lee scuppers. The pain from my hurt knee was
agonizing. I could not put my weight on it, or, at least, I
thought I could not put my weight on it; and I felt sure the leg
was broken. But the cook was after me, shouting through the lee
"'Ere, you! Don't tyke all night about it! Where's the pot? Lost
overboard? Serve you bloody well right if yer neck was broke!"
I managed to struggle to my feet. The great tea-pot was still in
my hand. I limped to the galley and handed it to him. But he was
consumed with indignation, real or feigned.
"Gawd blime me if you ayn't a slob. Wot 're you good for anyw'y,
I'd like to know? Eh? Wot 're you good for any'wy? Cawn't even
carry a bit of tea aft without losin' it. Now I'll 'ave to boil
"An' wot 're you snifflin' about?" he burst out at me, with renewed
rage. "'Cos you've 'urt yer pore little leg, pore little mamma's
I was not sniffling, though my face might well have been drawn and
twitching from the pain. But I called up all my resolution, set my
teeth, and hobbled back and forth from galley to cabin and cabin to
galley without further mishap. Two things I had acquired by my
accident: an injured knee-cap that went undressed and from which I
suffered for weary months, and the name of "Hump," which Wolf
Larsen had called me from the poop. Thereafter, fore and aft, I
was known by no other name, until the term became a part of my
thought-processes and I identified it with myself, thought of
myself as Hump, as though Hump were I and had always been I.
It was no easy task, waiting on the cabin table, where sat Wolf
Larsen, Johansen, and the six hunters. The cabin was small, to
begin with, and to move around, as I was compelled to, was not made
easier by the schooner's violent pitching and wallowing. But what
struck me most forcibly was the total lack of sympathy on the part
of the men whom I served. I could feel my knee through my clothes,
swelling, and swelling, and I was sick and faint from the pain of
it. I could catch glimpses of my face, white and ghastly,
distorted with pain, in the cabin mirror. All the men must have
seen my condition, but not one spoke or took notice of me, till I
was almost grateful to Wolf Larsen, later on (I was washing the
dishes), when he said:
"Don't let a little thing like that bother you. You'll get used to
such things in time. It may cripple you some, but all the same
you'll be learning to walk.
"That's what you call a paradox, isn't it?" he added.
He seemed pleased when I nodded my head with the customary "Yes,
"I suppose you know a bit about literary things? Eh? Good. I'll
have some talks with you some time."
And then, taking no further account of me, he turned his back and
went up on deck.
That night, when I had finished an endless amount of work, I was
sent to sleep in the steerage, where I made up a spare bunk. I was
glad to get out of the detestable presence of the cook and to be
off my feet. To my surprise, my clothes had dried on me and there
seemed no indications of catching cold, either from the last
soaking or from the prolonged soaking from the foundering of the
Martinez. Under ordinary circumstances, after all that I had
undergone, I should have been fit for bed and a trained nurse.
But my knee was bothering me terribly. As well as I could make
out, the kneecap seemed turned up on edge in the midst of the
swelling. As I sat in my bunk examining it (the six hunters were
all in the steerage, smoking and talking in loud voices), Henderson
took a passing glance at it.
"Looks nasty," he commented. "Tie a rag around it, and it'll be
That was all; and on the land I would have been lying on the broad
of my back, with a surgeon attending on me, and with strict
injunctions to do nothing but rest. But I must do these men
justice. Callous as they were to my suffering, they were equally
callous to their own when anything befell them. And this was due,
I believe, first, to habit; and second, to the fact that they were
less sensitively organized. I really believe that a finely-
organized, high-strung man would suffer twice and thrice as much as
they from a like injury.
Tired as I was,--exhausted, in fact,--I was prevented from sleeping
by the pain in my knee. It was all I could do to keep from
groaning aloud. At home I should undoubtedly have given vent to my
anguish; but this new and elemental environment seemed to call for
a savage repression. Like the savage, the attitude of these men
was stoical in great things, childish in little things. I
remember, later in the voyage, seeing Kerfoot, another of the
hunters, lose a finger by having it smashed to a jelly; and he did
not even murmur or change the expression on his face. Yet I have
seen the same man, time and again, fly into the most outrageous
passion over a trifle.
He was doing it now, vociferating, bellowing, waving his arms, and
cursing like a fiend, and all because of a disagreement with
another hunter as to whether a seal pup knew instinctively how to
swim. He held that it did, that it could swim the moment it was
born. The other hunter, Latimer, a lean, Yankee-looking fellow
with shrewd, narrow-slitted eyes, held otherwise, held that the
seal pup was born on the land for no other reason than that it
could not swim, that its mother was compelled to teach it to swim
as birds were compelled to teach their nestlings how to fly.
For the most part, the remaining four hunters leaned on the table
or lay in their bunks and left the discussion to the two
antagonists. But they were supremely interested, for every little
while they ardently took sides, and sometimes all were talking at
once, till their voices surged back and forth in waves of sound
like mimic thunder-rolls in the confined space. Childish and
immaterial as the topic was, the quality of their reasoning was
still more childish and immaterial. In truth, there was very
little reasoning or none at all. Their method was one of
assertion, assumption, and denunciation. They proved that a seal
pup could swim or not swim at birth by stating the proposition very
bellicosely and then following it up with an attack on the opposing
man's judgment, common sense, nationality, or past history.
Rebuttal was precisely similar. I have related this in order to
show the mental calibre of the men with whom I was thrown in
contact. Intellectually they were children, inhabiting the
physical forms of men.
And they smoked, incessantly smoked, using a coarse, cheap, and
offensive-smelling tobacco. The air was thick and murky with the
smoke of it; and this, combined with the violent movement of the
ship as she struggled through the storm, would surely have made me
sea-sick had I been a victim to that malady. As it was, it made me
quite squeamish, though this nausea might have been due to the pain
of my leg and exhaustion.
As I lay there thinking, I naturally dwelt upon myself and my
situation. It was unparalleled, undreamed-of, that I, Humphrey Van
Weyden, a scholar and a dilettante, if you please, in things
artistic and literary, should be lying here on a Bering Sea seal-
hunting schooner. Cabin-boy! I had never done any hard manual
labour, or scullion labour, in my life. I had lived a placid,
uneventful, sedentary existence all my days--the life of a scholar
and a recluse on an assured and comfortable income. Violent life
and athletic sports had never appealed to me. I had always been a
book-worm; so my sisters and father had called me during my
childhood. I had gone camping but once in my life, and then I left
the party almost at its start and returned to the comforts and
conveniences of a roof. And here I was, with dreary and endless
vistas before me of table-setting, potato-peeling, and dish-
washing. And I was not strong. The doctors had always said that I
had a remarkable constitution, but I had never developed it or my
body through exercise. My muscles were small and soft, like a
woman's, or so the doctors had said time and again in the course of
their attempts to persuade me to go in for physical-culture fads.
But I had preferred to use my head rather than my body; and here I
was, in no fit condition for the rough life in prospect.
These are merely a few of the things that went through my mind, and
are related for the sake of vindicating myself in advance in the
weak and helpless role I was destined to play. But I thought,
also, of my mother and sisters, and pictured their grief. I was
among the missing dead of the Martinez disaster, an unrecovered
body. I could see the head-lines in the papers; the fellows at the
University Club and the Bibelot shaking their heads and saying,
"Poor chap!" And I could see Charley Furuseth, as I had said good-
bye to him that morning, lounging in a dressing-gown on the be-
pillowed window couch and delivering himself of oracular and
And all the while, rolling, plunging, climbing the moving mountains
and falling and wallowing in the foaming valleys, the schooner
Ghost was fighting her way farther and farther into the heart of
the Pacific--and I was on her. I could hear the wind above. It
came to my ears as a muffled roar. Now and again feet stamped
overhead. An endless creaking was going on all about me, the
woodwork and the fittings groaning and squeaking and complaining in
a thousand keys. The hunters were still arguing and roaring like
some semi-human amphibious breed. The air was filled with oaths
and indecent expressions. I could see their faces, flushed and
angry, the brutality distorted and emphasized by the sickly yellow
of the sea-lamps which rocked back and forth with the ship.
Through the dim smoke-haze the bunks looked like the sleeping dens
of animals in a menagerie. Oilskins and sea-boots were hanging
from the walls, and here and there rifles and shotguns rested
securely in the racks. It was a sea-fitting for the buccaneers and
pirates of by-gone years. My imagination ran riot, and still I
could not sleep. And it was a long, long night, weary and dreary
But my first night in the hunters' steerage was also my last. Next
day Johansen, the new mate, was routed from the cabin by Wolf
Larsen, and sent into the steerage to sleep thereafter, while I
took possession of the tiny cabin state-room, which, on the first
day of the voyage, had already had two occupants. The reason for
this change was quickly learned by the hunters, and became the
cause of a deal of grumbling on their part. It seemed that
Johansen, in his sleep, lived over each night the events of the
day. His incessant talking and shouting and bellowing of orders
had been too much for Wolf Larsen, who had accordingly foisted the
nuisance upon his hunters.
After a sleepless night, I arose weak and in agony, to hobble
through my second day on the Ghost. Thomas Mugridge routed me out
at half-past five, much in the fashion that Bill Sykes must have
routed out his dog; but Mr. Mugridge's brutality to me was paid
back in kind and with interest. The unnecessary noise he made (I
had lain wide-eyed the whole night) must have awakened one of the
hunters; for a heavy shoe whizzed through the semi-darkness, and
Mr. Mugridge, with a sharp howl of pain, humbly begged everybody's
pardon. Later on, in the galley, I noticed that his ear was
bruised and swollen. It never went entirely back to its normal
shape, and was called a "cauliflower ear" by the sailors.
The day was filled with miserable variety. I had taken my dried
clothes down from the galley the night before, and the first thing
I did was to exchange the cook's garments for them. I looked for
my purse. In addition to some small change (and I have a good
memory for such things), it had contained one hundred and eighty-
five dollars in gold and paper. The purse I found, but its
contents, with the exception of the small silver, had been
abstracted. I spoke to the cook about it, when I went on deck to
take up my duties in the galley, and though I had looked forward to
a surly answer, I had not expected the belligerent harangue that I
"Look 'ere, 'Ump," he began, a malicious light in his eyes and a
snarl in his throat; "d'ye want yer nose punched? If you think I'm
a thief, just keep it to yerself, or you'll find 'ow bloody well
mistyken you are. Strike me blind if this ayn't gratitude for yer!
'Ere you come, a pore mis'rable specimen of 'uman scum, an' I tykes
yer into my galley an' treats yer 'ansom, an' this is wot I get for
it. Nex' time you can go to 'ell, say I, an' I've a good mind to
give you what-for anyw'y."
So saying, he put up his fists and started for me. To my shame be
it, I cowered away from the blow and ran out the galley door. What
else was I to do? Force, nothing but force, obtained on this
brute-ship. Moral suasion was a thing unknown. Picture it to
yourself: a man of ordinary stature, slender of build, and with
weak, undeveloped muscles, who has lived a peaceful, placid life,
and is unused to violence of any sort--what could such a man
possibly do? There was no more reason that I should stand and face
these human beasts than that I should stand and face an infuriated
So I thought it out at the time, feeling the need for vindication
and desiring to be at peace with my conscience. But this
vindication did not satisfy. Nor, to this day can I permit my
manhood to look back upon those events and feel entirely
exonerated. The situation was something that really exceeded
rational formulas for conduct and demanded more than the cold
conclusions of reason. When viewed in the light of formal logic,
there is not one thing of which to be ashamed; but nevertheless a
shame rises within me at the recollection, and in the pride of my
manhood I feel that my manhood has in unaccountable ways been
smirched and sullied.
All of which is neither here nor there. The speed with which I ran
from the galley caused excruciating pain in my knee, and I sank
down helplessly at the break of the poop. But the Cockney had not
"Look at 'im run! Look at 'im run!" I could hear him crying. "An'
with a gyme leg at that! Come on back, you pore little mamma's
darling. I won't 'it yer; no, I won't."
I came back and went on with my work; and here the episode ended
for the time, though further developments were yet to take place.
I set the breakfast-table in the cabin, and at seven o'clock waited
on the hunters and officers. The storm had evidently broken during
the night, though a huge sea was still running and a stiff wind
blowing. Sail had been made in the early watches, so that the
Ghost was racing along under everything except the two topsails and
the flying jib. These three sails, I gathered from the
conversation, were to be set immediately after breakfast. I
learned, also, that Wolf Larsen was anxious to make the most of the
storm, which was driving him to the south-west into that portion of
the sea where he expected to pick up with the north-east trades.
It was before this steady wind that he hoped to make the major
portion of the run to Japan, curving south into the tropics and
north again as he approached the coast of Asia.
After breakfast I had another unenviable experience. When I had
finished washing the dishes, I cleaned the cabin stove and carried
the ashes up on deck to empty them. Wolf Larsen and Henderson were
standing near the wheel, deep in conversation. The sailor,
Johnson, was steering. As I started toward the weather side I saw
him make a sudden motion with his head, which I mistook for a token
of recognition and good-morning. In reality, he was attempting to
warn me to throw my ashes over the lee side. Unconscious of my
blunder, I passed by Wolf Larsen and the hunter and flung the ashes
over the side to windward. The wind drove them back, and not only
over me, but over Henderson and Wolf Larsen. The next instant the
latter kicked me, violently, as a cur is kicked. I had not
realized there could be so much pain in a kick. I reeled away from
him and leaned against the cabin in a half-fainting condition.
Everything was swimming before my eyes, and I turned sick. The
nausea overpowered me, and I managed to crawl to the side of the
vessel. But Wolf Larsen did not follow me up. Brushing the ashes
from his clothes, he had resumed his conversation with Henderson.
Johansen, who had seen the affair from the break of the poop, sent
a couple of sailors aft to clean up the mess.
Later in the morning I received a surprise of a totally different
sort. Following the cook's instructions, I had gone into Wolf
Larsen's state-room to put it to rights and make the bed. Against
the wall, near the head of the bunk, was a rack filled with books.
I glanced over them, noting with astonishment such names as
Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe, and De Quincey. There were scientific
works, too, among which were represented men such as Tyndall,
Proctor, and Darwin. Astronomy and physics were represented, and I
remarked Bulfinch's Age of Fable, Shaw's History of English and
American Literature, and Johnson's Natural History in two large
volumes. Then there were a number of grammars, such as Metcalf's,
and Reed and Kellogg's; and I smiled as I saw a copy of The Dean's
I could not reconcile these books with the man from what I had seen
of him, and I wondered if he could possibly read them. But when I
came to make the bed I found, between the blankets, dropped
apparently as he had sunk off to sleep, a complete Browning, the
Cambridge Edition. It was open at "In a Balcony," and I noticed,
here and there, passages underlined in pencil. Further, letting
drop the volume during a lurch of the ship, a sheet of paper fell
out. It was scrawled over with geometrical diagrams and
calculations of some sort.
It was patent that this terrible man was no ignorant clod, such as
one would inevitably suppose him to be from his exhibitions of
brutality. At once he became an enigma. One side or the other of
his nature was perfectly comprehensible; but both sides together
were bewildering. I had already remarked that his language was
excellent, marred with an occasional slight inaccuracy. Of course,
in common speech with the sailors and hunters, it sometimes fairly
bristled with errors, which was due to the vernacular itself; but
in the few words he had held with me it had been clear and correct.
This glimpse I had caught of his other side must have emboldened
me, for I resolved to speak to him about the money I had lost.
"I have been robbed," I said to him, a little later, when I found
him pacing up and down the poop alone.
"Sir," he corrected, not harshly, but sternly.
"I have been robbed, sir," I amended.
"How did it happen?" he asked.
Then I told him the whole circumstance, how my clothes had been
left to dry in the galley, and how, later, I was nearly beaten by
the cook when I mentioned the matter.
He smiled at my recital. "Pickings," he concluded; "Cooky's
pickings. And don't you think your miserable life worth the price?
Besides, consider it a lesson. You'll learn in time how to take
care of your money for yourself. I suppose, up to now, your lawyer
has done it for you, or your business agent."
I could feel the quiet sneer through his words, but demanded, "How
can I get it back again?"
"That's your look-out. You haven't any lawyer or business agent
now, so you'll have to depend on yourself. When you get a dollar,
hang on to it. A man who leaves his money lying around, the way
you did, deserves to lose it. Besides, you have sinned. You have
no right to put temptation in the way of your fellow-creatures.
You tempted Cooky, and he fell. You have placed his immortal soul
in jeopardy. By the way, do you believe in the immortal soul?"
His lids lifted lazily as he asked the question, and it seemed that
the deeps were opening to me and that I was gazing into his soul.
But it was an illusion. Far as it might have seemed, no man has
ever seen very far into Wolf Larsen's soul, or seen it at all,--of
this I am convinced. It was a very lonely soul, I was to learn,
that never unmasked, though at rare moments it played at doing so.
"I read immortality in your eyes," I answered, dropping the "sir,"-
-an experiment, for I thought the intimacy of the conversation
He took no notice. "By that, I take it, you see something that is
alive, but that necessarily does not have to live for ever."
"I read more than that," I continued boldly.
"Then you read consciousness. You read the consciousness of life
that it is alive; but still no further away, no endlessness of
How clearly he thought, and how well he expressed what he thought!
From regarding me curiously, he turned his head and glanced out
over the leaden sea to windward. A bleakness came into his eyes,
and the lines of his mouth grew severe and harsh. He was evidently
in a pessimistic mood.
"Then to what end?" he demanded abruptly, turning back to me. "If
I am immortal--why?"
I halted. How could I explain my idealism to this man? How could
I put into speech a something felt, a something like the strains of
music heard in sleep, a something that convinced yet transcended
"What do you believe, then?" I countered.
"I believe that life is a mess," he answered promptly. "It is like
yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an
hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to
move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the
strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky
eat the most and move the longest, that is all. What do you make
of those things?"
He swept his am in an impatient gesture toward a number of the
sailors who were working on some kind of rope stuff amidships.
"They move, so does the jelly-fish move. They move in order to eat
in order that they may keep moving. There you have it. They live
for their belly's sake, and the belly is for their sake. It's a
circle; you get nowhere. Neither do they. In the end they come to
a standstill. They move no more. They are dead."
"They have dreams," I interrupted, "radiant, flashing dreams--"
"Of grub," he concluded sententiously.
"And of more--"
"Grub. Of a larger appetite and more luck in satisfying it." His
voice sounded harsh. There was no levity in it. "For, look you,
they dream of making lucky voyages which will bring them more
money, of becoming the mates of ships, of finding fortunes--in
short, of being in a better position for preying on their fellows,
of having all night in, good grub and somebody else to do the dirty
work. You and I are just like them. There is no difference,
except that we have eaten more and better. I am eating them now,
and you too. But in the past you have eaten more than I have. You
have slept in soft beds, and worn fine clothes, and eaten good
meals. Who made those beds? and those clothes? and those meals?
Not you. You never made anything in your own sweat. You live on
an income which your father earned. You are like a frigate bird
swooping down upon the boobies and robbing them of the fish they
have caught. You are one with a crowd of men who have made what
they call a government, who are masters of all the other men, and
who eat the food the other men get and would like to eat
themselves. You wear the warm clothes. They made the clothes, but
they shiver in rags and ask you, the lawyer, or business agent who
handles your money, for a job."
"But that is beside the matter," I cried.
"Not at all." He was speaking rapidly now, and his eyes were
flashing. "It is piggishness, and it is life. Of what use or
sense is an immortality of piggishness? What is the end? What is
it all about? You have made no food. Yet the food you have eaten
or wasted might have saved the lives of a score of wretches who
made the food but did not eat it. What immortal end did you serve?
or did they? Consider yourself and me. What does your boasted
immortality amount to when your life runs foul of mine? You would
like to go back to the land, which is a favourable place for your
kind of piggishness. It is a whim of mine to keep you aboard this
ship, where my piggishness flourishes. And keep you I will. I may
make or break you. You may die to-day, this week, or next month.
I could kill you now, with a blow of my fist, for you are a
miserable weakling. But if we are immortal, what is the reason for
this? To be piggish as you and I have been all our lives does not
seem to be just the thing for immortals to be doing. Again, what's
it all about? Why have I kept you here?--"
"Because you are stronger," I managed to blurt out.
"But why stronger?" he went on at once with his perpetual queries.
"Because I am a bigger bit of the ferment than you? Don't you see?
Don't you see?"
"But the hopelessness of it," I protested.
"I agree with you," he answered. "Then why move at all, since
moving is living? Without moving and being part of the yeast there
would be no hopelessness. But,--and there it is,--we want to live
and move, though we have no reason to, because it happens that it
is the nature of life to live and move, to want to live and move.
If it were not for this, life would be dead. It is because of this
life that is in you that you dream of your immortality. The life
that is in you is alive and wants to go on being alive for ever.
Bah! An eternity of piggishness!"
He abruptly turned on his heel and started forward. He stopped at
the break of the poop and called me to him.
"By the way, how much was it that Cooky got away with?" he asked.
"One hundred and eighty-five dollars, sir," I answered.
He nodded his head. A moment later, as I started down the
companion stairs to lay the table for dinner, I heard him loudly
curing some men amidships.
By the following morning the storm had blown itself quite out and
the Ghost was rolling slightly on a calm sea without a breath of
wind. Occasional light airs were felt, however, and Wolf Larsen
patrolled the poop constantly, his eyes ever searching the sea to
the north-eastward, from which direction the great trade-wind must
The men were all on deck and busy preparing their various boats for
the season's hunting. There are seven boats aboard, the captain's
dingey, and the six which the hunters will use. Three, a hunter, a
boat-puller, and a boat-steerer, compose a boat's crew. On board
the schooner the boat-pullers and steerers are the crew. The
hunters, too, are supposed to be in command of the watches,
subject, always, to the orders of Wolf Larsen.
All this, and more, I have learned. The Ghost is considered the
fastest schooner in both the San Francisco and Victoria fleets. In
fact, she was once a private yacht, and was built for speed. Her
lines and fittings--though I know nothing about such things--speak
for themselves. Johnson was telling me about her in a short chat I
had with him during yesterday's second dog-watch. He spoke
enthusiastically, with the love for a fine craft such as some men
feel for horses. He is greatly disgusted with the outlook, and I
am given to understand that Wolf Larsen bears a very unsavoury
reputation among the sealing captains. It was the Ghost herself
that lured Johnson into signing for the voyage, but he is already
beginning to repent.
As he told me, the Ghost is an eighty-ton schooner of a remarkably
fine model. Her beam, or width, is twenty-three feet, and her
length a little over ninety feet. A lead keel of fabulous but
unknown weight makes her very stable, while she carries an immense
spread of canvas. From the deck to the truck of the maintopmast is
something over a hundred feet, while the foremast with its topmast
is eight or ten feet shorter. I am giving these details so that
the size of this little floating world which holds twenty-two men
may be appreciated. It is a very little world, a mote, a speck,
and I marvel that men should dare to venture the sea on a
contrivance so small and fragile.
Wolf Larsen has, also, a reputation for reckless carrying on of
sail. I overheard Henderson and another of the hunters, Standish,
a Californian, talking about it. Two years ago he dismasted the
Ghost in a gale on Bering Sea, whereupon the present masts were put
in, which are stronger and heavier in every way. He is said to
have remarked, when he put them in, that he preferred turning her
over to losing the sticks.
Every man aboard, with the exception of Johansen, who is rather
overcome by his promotion, seems to have an excuse for having
sailed on the Ghost. Half the men forward are deep-water sailors,
and their excuse is that they did not know anything about her or
her captain. And those who do know, whisper that the hunters,
while excellent shots, were so notorious for their quarrelsome and
rascally proclivities that they could not sign on any decent
I have made the acquaintance of another one of the crew,--Louis he
is called, a rotund and jovial-faced Nova Scotia Irishman, and a
very sociable fellow, prone to talk as long as he can find a
listener. In the afternoon, while the cook was below asleep and I
was peeling the everlasting potatoes, Louis dropped into the galley
for a "yarn." His excuse for being aboard was that he was drunk
when he signed. He assured me again and again that it was the last
thing in the world he would dream of doing in a sober moment. It
seems that he has been seal-hunting regularly each season for a
dozen years, and is accounted one of the two or three very best
boat-steerers in both fleets.
"Ah, my boy," he shook his head ominously at me, "'tis the worst
schooner ye could iv selected, nor were ye drunk at the time as was
I. 'Tis sealin' is the sailor's paradise--on other ships than
this. The mate was the first, but mark me words, there'll be more
dead men before the trip is done with. Hist, now, between you an'
meself and the stanchion there, this Wolf Larsen is a regular
devil, an' the Ghost'll be a hell-ship like she's always ben since
he had hold iv her. Don't I know? Don't I know? Don't I remember
him in Hakodate two years gone, when he had a row an' shot four iv
his men? Wasn't I a-layin' on the Emma L., not three hundred yards
away? An' there was a man the same year he killed with a blow iv
his fist. Yes, sir, killed 'im dead-oh. His head must iv smashed
like an eggshell. An' wasn't there the Governor of Kura Island,
an' the Chief iv Police, Japanese gentlemen, sir, an' didn't they
come aboard the Ghost as his guests, a-bringin' their wives along--
wee an' pretty little bits of things like you see 'em painted on
fans. An' as he was a-gettin' under way, didn't the fond husbands
get left astern-like in their sampan, as it might be by accident?
An' wasn't it a week later that the poor little ladies was put
ashore on the other side of the island, with nothin' before 'em but
to walk home acrost the mountains on their weeny-teeny little straw
sandals which wouldn't hang together a mile? Don't I know? 'Tis
the beast he is, this Wolf Larsen--the great big beast mentioned iv
in Revelation; an' no good end will he ever come to. But I've said
nothin' to ye, mind ye. I've whispered never a word; for old fat
Louis'll live the voyage out if the last mother's son of yez go to
"Wolf Larsen!" he snorted a moment later. "Listen to the word,
will ye! Wolf--'tis what he is. He's not black-hearted like some
men. 'Tis no heart he has at all. Wolf, just wolf, 'tis what he
is. D'ye wonder he's well named?"
"But if he is so well-known for what he is," I queried, "how is it
that he can get men to ship with him?"
"An' how is it ye can get men to do anything on God's earth an'
sea?" Louis demanded with Celtic fire. "How d'ye find me aboard if
'twasn't that I was drunk as a pig when I put me name down?
There's them that can't sail with better men, like the hunters, and
them that don't know, like the poor devils of wind-jammers for'ard
there. But they'll come to it, they'll come to it, an' be sorry
the day they was born. I could weep for the poor creatures, did I
but forget poor old fat Louis and the troubles before him. But
'tis not a whisper I've dropped, mind ye, not a whisper."
"Them hunters is the wicked boys," he broke forth again, for he
suffered from a constitutional plethora of speech. "But wait till
they get to cutting up iv jinks and rowin' 'round. He's the boy'll
fix 'em. 'Tis him that'll put the fear of God in their rotten
black hearts. Look at that hunter iv mine, Horner. 'Jock' Horner
they call him, so quiet-like an' easy-goin', soft-spoken as a girl,
till ye'd think butter wouldn't melt in the mouth iv him. Didn't
he kill his boat-steerer last year? 'Twas called a sad accident,
but I met the boat-puller in Yokohama an' the straight iv it was
given me. An' there's Smoke, the black little devil--didn't the
Roosians have him for three years in the salt mines of Siberia, for
poachin' on Copper Island, which is a Roosian preserve? Shackled
he was, hand an' foot, with his mate. An' didn't they have words
or a ruction of some kind?--for 'twas the other fellow Smoke sent
up in the buckets to the top of the mine; an' a piece at a time he
went up, a leg to-day, an' to-morrow an arm, the next day the head,
an' so on."
"But you can't mean it!" I cried out, overcome with the horror of
"Mean what!" he demanded, quick as a flash. "'Tis nothin' I've
said. Deef I am, and dumb, as ye should be for the sake iv your
mother; an' never once have I opened me lips but to say fine things
iv them an' him, God curse his soul, an' may he rot in purgatory
ten thousand years, and then go down to the last an' deepest hell
Johnson, the man who had chafed me raw when I first came aboard,
seemed the least equivocal of the men forward or aft. In fact,
there was nothing equivocal about him. One was struck at once by
his straightforwardness and manliness, which, in turn, were
tempered by a modesty which might be mistaken for timidity. But
timid he was not. He seemed, rather, to have the courage of his
convictions, the certainty of his manhood. It was this that made
him protest, at the commencement of our acquaintance, against being
called Yonson. And upon this, and him, Louis passed judgment and
"'Tis a fine chap, that squarehead Johnson we've for'ard with us,"
he said. "The best sailorman in the fo'c'sle. He's my boat-
puller. But it's to trouble he'll come with Wolf Larsen, as the
sparks fly upward. It's meself that knows. I can see it brewin'
an' comin' up like a storm in the sky. I've talked to him like a
brother, but it's little he sees in takin' in his lights or flyin'
false signals. He grumbles out when things don't go to suit him,
and there'll be always some tell-tale carryin' word iv it aft to
the Wolf. The Wolf is strong, and it's the way of a wolf to hate
strength, an' strength it is he'll see in Johnson--no knucklin'
under, and a 'Yes, sir, thank ye kindly, sir,' for a curse or a
blow. Oh, she's a-comin'! She's a-comin'! An' God knows where
I'll get another boat-puller! What does the fool up an' say, when
the old man calls him Yonson, but 'Me name is Johnson, sir,' an'
then spells it out, letter for letter. Ye should iv seen the old
man's face! I thought he'd let drive at him on the spot. He
didn't, but he will, an' he'll break that squarehead's heart, or
it's little I know iv the ways iv men on the ships iv the sea."
Thomas Mugridge is becoming unendurable. I am compelled to Mister
him and to Sir him with every speech. One reason for this is that
Wolf Larsen seems to have taken a fancy to him. It is an
unprecedented thing, I take it, for a captain to be chummy with the
cook; but this is certainly what Wolf Larsen is doing. Two or
three times he put his head into the galley and chaffed Mugridge
good-naturedly, and once, this afternoon, he stood by the break of
the poop and chatted with him for fully fifteen minutes. When it
was over, and Mugridge was back in the galley, he became greasily
radiant, and went about his work, humming coster songs in a nerve-
racking and discordant falsetto.
"I always get along with the officers," he remarked to me in a
confidential tone. "I know the w'y, I do, to myke myself uppreci-
yted. There was my last skipper--w'y I thought nothin' of droppin'
down in the cabin for a little chat and a friendly glass.
'Mugridge,' sez 'e to me, 'Mugridge,' sez 'e, 'you've missed yer
vokytion.' 'An' 'ow's that?' sez I. 'Yer should 'a been born a
gentleman, an' never 'ad to work for yer livin'.' God strike me
dead, 'Ump, if that ayn't wot 'e sez, an' me a-sittin' there in 'is
own cabin, jolly-like an' comfortable, a-smokin' 'is cigars an'
drinkin' 'is rum."
This chitter-chatter drove me to distraction. I never heard a
voice I hated so. His oily, insinuating tones, his greasy smile
and his monstrous self-conceit grated on my nerves till sometimes I
was all in a tremble. Positively, he was the most disgusting and
loathsome person I have ever met. The filth of his cooking was
indescribable; and, as he cooked everything that was eaten aboard,
I was compelled to select what I ate with great circumspection,
choosing from the least dirty of his concoctions.
My hands bothered me a great deal, unused as they were to work.
The nails were discoloured and black, while the skin was already
grained with dirt which even a scrubbing-brush could not remove.
Then blisters came, in a painful and never-ending procession, and I
had a great burn on my forearm, acquired by losing my balance in a
roll of the ship and pitching against the galley stove. Nor was my
knee any better. The swelling had not gone down, and the cap was
still up on edge. Hobbling about on it from morning till night was
not helping it any. What I needed was rest, if it were ever to get
Rest! I never before knew the meaning of the word. I had been
resting all my life and did not know it. But now, could I sit
still for one half-hour and do nothing, not even think, it would be
the most pleasurable thing in the world. But it is a revelation,
on the other hand. I shall be able to appreciate the lives of the
working people hereafter. I did not dream that work was so
terrible a thing. From half-past five in the morning till ten
o'clock at night I am everybody's slave, with not one moment to
myself, except such as I can steal near the end of the second dog-
watch. Let me pause for a minute to look out over the sea
sparkling in the sun, or to gaze at a sailor going aloft to the
gaff-topsails, or running out the bowsprit, and I am sure to hear
the hateful voice, "'Ere, you, 'Ump, no sodgerin'. I've got my
peepers on yer."
There are signs of rampant bad temper in the steerage, and the
gossip is going around that Smoke and Henderson have had a fight.
Henderson seems the best of the hunters, a slow-going fellow, and
hard to rouse; but roused he must have been, for Smoke had a
bruised and discoloured eye, and looked particularly vicious when
he came into the cabin for supper.
A cruel thing happened just before supper, indicative of the
callousness and brutishness of these men. There is one green hand
in the crew, Harrison by name, a clumsy-looking country boy,
mastered, I imagine, by the spirit of adventure, and making his
first voyage. In the light baffling airs the schooner had been
tacking about a great deal, at which times the sails pass from one
side to the other and a man is sent aloft to shift over the fore-
gaff-topsail. In some way, when Harrison was aloft, the sheet
jammed in the block through which it runs at the end of the gaff.
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